31 Aug 2006

Singapore Justice System Tested by Falun Gong Trial

Proper judicial procedure comes into question on first day of trial of human rights demonstrators

By Jaya Gibson and Steven Smith
On Assignment in Singapore Aug 29, 2006

[A passerby takes a look at a placard against the killing of Falun Gong practitioners in China, in the financial district of Singapore, 02 August 2005. Practitioners were recently arrested for handing out flyers about the persecution. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)]

SINGAPORE—In a miniscule room, tucked away in the furthest corner of the Subordinate Court, a trial of remarkable human rights interest got underway today. The accused are two Falun Gong practitioners who were peacefully protesting outside of the Chinese Embassy on July 20th, exercising their democratic right to practice their freedom of belief. Their protest consisted of displaying a banner bearing in Chinese the words, "7.20 - Stop the inhumane persecution of Falun Gong in China." (The persecution of Falun Gong in China started on July 20, 1999.)

This statement is allegedly 'insulting' and is 'harassing the Chinese Communist Party' and these are the allegations that resulted in the protesters' arrests.

Trial Treated Differently—Overseas Influence?

From the outset of the trial today, an inordinate number of police restricted court access to anyone who was not a witness or a family member of the defendants. Initially foreign press was also not allowed access as local press went straight through.

The feeling among the many interested parties waiting outside the court—some who had traveled from overseas; Australia, UK and Hong Kong to name a few countries—was that Courtroom 36 was deliberately chosen so as to restrict access and restrict public visibility.

Prior to the trial truly getting underway it was made apparent that the prosecution witnesses were present in the courtroom when the defendant's witnesses were not, thus undermining correct judicial procedure.

One such motion of serious contention was that a VCD containing footage to be submitted as evidence for the prosecution was denied to the defense due to fears that it might be made available to the public via the Internet and other channels. This raises the question: Why does the prosecution fear this footage reaching the public domain?

Defense lawyer M. Ravi put forward several impassioned motions outlining the various discrepancies surrounding the trials circumstances, suggesting a miscarriage of justice. All these motions were denied.

He also stated that article 12 of the constitution—(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law—had been breached and that the AGC is deliberately targeting Falun Gong practitioners under pressure from the government and Beijing.

73-Year-Old Defendant Ordered Deported Prior to Trial

One such example of this discrimination is clearly evident in the case of Chen Peiyu, one of the three arrested. She was finally able to attend the trial after an unusual series of events.

Chen Peiyu, a 73-year-old lady, who had been handcuffed and detained in July 2005 for handing out leaflets, was abducted by Immigration officials on August 10, 2006 prior to the trial set for August 28, 2006.

Plainclothes police and Immigration officials approached her while she was shopping, asked her name, which she gave, and then requested her passport. She refused and instead offered a duplicate copy of her passport. They then forcibly carried her to a car and drove her to the immigration office. Her green card was then revoked without explanation and she was told she had seven days to leave the country. She had to conclude her affairs and be gone by August 17.

Defense lawyer M. Ravi issued a letter to Immigration on August 14 explaining that Chen was required to attend trial on the 28th and couldn't leave Singapore.

On the August 16, police then hand-delivered a notice requesting that Chen appear in court on the 17th. On August 17, after a very short hearing, charges against her were dropped, allowing immigration to continue deportation proceedings.

Immigration then informed her that she must leave on August 21, as she was no longer required for trial. On the 21st she traveled to Batam but was refused entry and had to return to Singapore. After talking with their superiors, immigration officials granted her an extension until August 22. On the 22nd, Chen traveled to Malaysia.

She was later subpoenaed as a witness for the trial by defense lawyer M. Ravi and granted permission to return for one day to attend trial on the 28th.

This raises the question of why officials went to such trouble to prevent a 73-year-old lady from attending a trial, a lady who has committed no apparent crime, an elderly woman arrested for passing out leaflets.

Chen, who practices Falun Gong, believes she was targeted after Chinese officials put pressure on the Singapore Government to crack down on Falun Gong.

Falun Gong is an exercise and meditation practice which cultivates the universal principle of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It was banned in China by former head of state Jiang Zemin in 1999 when it became very popular. Since then, many thousands have been tortured or killed and hundreds of thousands sent to labor camps without trial for practicing the exercises and principles.

Recent reports have exposed that organs for China's booming organ transplantation industry are obtained from living Falun Gong practitioners who are imprisoned for their beliefs. Such illicit organ harvesting is widespread in China, with hospitals and the military profiting. In a press conference held in Melbourne, Australia, at the Sir Thomas More Center last week, Edward Macmillan-Scott, the Vice President of the European Parliament, called such use of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience nothing short of genocide.

Singapore threatens shoot-to-kill measures against violent protesters

Received via email today...

Just two weeks ahead of the annual IMF/WB meetings in Singapore, the police issued a warning that security forces will not be averse to the use of firearms against protesters who threaten the life or health of others.

Although Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution states the rights of its citizens to assemble peaceably, it also provides for Parliament to impose restrictions in the interest of security. (see below)

In reality, all manner of public protests and demonstrations are banned in Singapore. The last officially-sanctioned public protest was held in 1988 when 4000 members of the State-aligned trade union rallied against alleged American interference in domestic politics.

Last August, a silent protest by four activists in the business district was broken up a team of riot police. The incident was recorded on video.

In 2002, the police aborted a planned rally by two opposition politicians outside the presidential complex by arresting them just as they set foot on the scene. The arrest was also captured on video by filmamker Martyn See in his short video Singapore Rebel.

Despite the police warning, opposition politcian Chee Soon Juan has vowed to stage a public demonstration during the IMF/WB proceedings to highlight the country's growing income gap. His application for a march had been earlier rejected by the authorities.

Meanwhile, NGOs and civil society groups said they are planning mass protests in the Indonesian resort island of Batam, a boat ride from Singapore.

Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14. —(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) —

(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and

(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.

(2) Parliament may by law impose —

(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;

(b) on the right conferred by clause (1) (b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and

(c) on the right conferred by clause (1) (c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.

(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.

Peaceful assembly the key to change in Singapore

Chee Soon Juan
30 Aug 06

Admit it. Most of us have little understanding of what our national anthem means beyond 'mari kita.' Still, it beats singing God Save the Queen.

There is something else that many Singaporeans know very little of and that is how we came to rid ourselves of our British overlords.

Pictures produced ad nauseum by the state media of a certain youthful-looking Lee Kuan Yew shouting vein-popping "Merdeka!" have been irreparably seared onto our visual cortices so much so that independent Singapore has become synonymous with the PAP.

Pardon our French, but this is pure, unadulterated bovine scatology.

The independence putsch came not from the PAP but from Singaporeans who cared enough and were courageous enough to publicly demonstrate their disdain for colonialism.

The PAP expertly rode the waves of public enthusiasm, waxing lyrical about freedom and democracy along the way, and came to power on the backs of courageous, ordinary Singaporeans.

Why peaceful assembly

Once ensconced in the Istana, the ruling party made illegal all the democratic freedoms that enabled us to remove the British in the first place.

The most important of these is the freedom of peaceful assembly. It was the right of assembly that enabled Singaporeans to register their voices against colonialism and all the attendant injustice, including discrimination against the locals. Public protests were the staple of the independence movement.

The PAP now makes peaceful assembly to be an evil from which Singapore must exorcise itself. It restricts the people to indoor forums and passes off MacDonald's-suggestion-box type of feedback for national debate.

Imagine if luminaries like Lim Chin Siong and company were confined to just writing petitions to the Governor and contributing their views to Her Majesty's Feedback Unit, where would Singapore be today? Yes, one can see that the British would have been quaking in their boots and after enough letters from the public, packed up and left.

Let us not delude ourselves. No regime will voluntarily relinquish power. It is only when those they govern demand it that autocrats will pay heed.

To this end, peaceful assembly is the only tool that citizens have to pry open the tight grip of tyranny. It is the most basic right of citizens without which ordinary folks are rendered powerless.

Still not persuaded? Let's do a simple demonstration. Take a piece of paper and divide into two columns. On one side write down all the political grievances that you can think of: the use of the foreigners to compete with Singaporeans, the continued increase of living costs coupled with the downward spiral of wages, the atrociously expensive medical costs in this country, the creaming off of our hard-earned CPF savings, and so on.

In the other column, write down all the ways that the people can register their unhappiness publicly and, more important, the number of times the Government has heeded your call.

Now do you see the point?

Effecting change

The right of peaceful assembly is a right guaranteed not only by our Constitution but also one that is enshrined in the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is a terrible shame for our nation that we remain one of the very few Asian countries that prohibits the peaceful gathering of citizens (see Like Burma, like Singapore). When we should be up there competing with dynamic Asian societies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (and increasingly India, Thailand, and Malaysia), we instead find ourselves in the same political league with the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma.

Being in a political straitjacket creates a double whammy for Singaporeans. Not only does it produce inane policies from a Government that is becoming increasingly out of touch with reality, it also ensures that our economy cannot benefit from the energy that would otherwise be generated by a free and dynamic people.

The truth of the matter is that as long as the citizens are deprived of their political rights, especially the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, our problems will remain. Without vehement opposition and, more important, a very public display of that vehemence, there is absolutely no incentive for the Government to acquiesce to public demands.

Over the years, the PAP Government has become impervious to the voice of the people, resulting in economic and social injustice that we currently witness. These ills will, if they haven't already, drive our nation into a morass of problems that we will find impossible from which to extricate ourselves.

(For example, we have yet to examine fully the unintended socio-political problems that may arise from the influx of foreigners into this country – yes, very much like the repercussions of the unthinkingly harsh Stop-At-Two policy of the 1970s.)

The coming together of citizens in peaceful protests is not the only thing to do; it is the right thing to do. It is the duty of every citizen to stand up and be counted at a time when our country needs us most. Shorn of this right, our citizenship is absolutely meaningless.

Most of you would be able to see the importance and the necessity of peaceful assembly. That's the easy part. What is significantly more difficult to do is to take that first step to take part in a peaceful assembly.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to exercise your right as a citizen of Singapore and participate in the Empower Singaporeans Rally and March to be held during the WB-IMF meeting in September.

Remember, wresting back our rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is the ultimate honour one can claim as a citizen of this country.

Note: Details of the Empower Singaporeans Rally & March will be announced on this website soon.

Nigerian footballer sentenced to death in Singapore

August 31, 2006.

By AND West Africa

The House of Representatives today agreed not to interfere in the plight of Nigerian footballer Amara Iwuchukwu sentenced to death in Singapore for carrying a prohibited drug,the Nigerian News Agency said.

NAN said Iwuchukwu,19, was arrested at Changi Airport in Singapore on Nov. 27, 2004 for allegedly being in possession of a substance suspected to be heroin.

The footballer was consequently sentenced to death by a Singapore High Court and his sentence was later confirmed by an appeal court. The Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Human Rights, Rep Abdul Oroh, had earlier moved a motion, pleading to the House to intervene in the matter.

Oroh said that he was particularly disturbed by the refusal of the president of Singapore to grant clemency to the convict.

He noted that the refusal meant that Iwuchukwu would soon be executed by
hanging, adding that Singapore was reputed to have the highest rate of executions in the world.

He urged the House to persuade President Olusegun Obasanjo to plead with his Singaporean counterpart to grant Iwuchukwu clemency on the ground that he was just 18 years old when he was arrested and for being a first offender.

Oroh also wanted the parliament of Singapore and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) to plead with the president of Singapore to grant amnesty the footballer.

Those who contributed to the motion, including Reps Tam Brisbe, Lola Abiola-Edewor, Tongu Tsegbe and Obenten Obenten, however, kicked against the motion.

They all argued that the footballer had tarnished Nigeria's image by indulging in criminal activities and should be left to face the music.

NAN reports that when the Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Masari, called for a voice vote, a clear majority of the legislators voted against the motion.

Security stepped up in Singapore ahead of major IMF conference

Talk about living under martial law. Would I be correct in interpreting the Senior Assistant Commissioner Aubeck Kam's statement as 'protest and we will/might/could kill you'.

What is the IMF and World Bank doing in Singapore apart from undermining any argument they had that they wish to encourage civil society groups to engage with them?

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Wednesday August 30, 2006

Singapore- Security has been tightened in Singapore ahead of a major international conference, with a warning issued Thursday that police will take all appropriate measures against protestors threatening the life or health of others, including the use of firearms. More than 10,000 police officers are working with the military and other agencies to ensure the largest international gathering ever held in the city-state - hosted by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank from September 13 to 20 - goes without a hitch.

"If anybody behaves in a way that threatens the life of another or threatens serious injury to another, then the police will use all necessary means to prevent that from happening," The Straits Times quoted Senior Assistant Commissioner Aubeck Kam as saying.

"In appropriate situations, this may extend to the use of firearms and the possibility of death," he said.

"We will not entertain any notion of allowing groups of people to gather and form into larger and larger groups," he added.

The public has also been advised to expect random checks at shopping centres, commercial buildings and transit points.

Sixteen-thousand delegates are due to attend the conference and run-up meetings.

Despite the World Bank's call for advocates of different causes to be allowed at outside venues, police reiterated the only venue for engagement with the delegates is a section of the lobby in Suntec City, where the meetings will be held.

"We are prepared to deal with protesters in a firm, decisive, but fair manner," Kam said.

Additional police are coming to help from Indonesia, the Antara News Agency reported.

A warning on Australia's travel advisory Web site cited potential civil unrest and political tension in the city-state.

"Penalties include heavy fines and imprisonment," the Australian government said in advising its citizens.

Thousands of protestors have indicated they will confine their activities to the Indonesian island of Bintan, a short ferry ride away from Singapore, where authorities warned earlier that violent protesters could be caned.

Only 400 people from groups outside Singapore will be allowed at Suntec City to assure that the scenario at last December's World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong is not repeated. Police had fired tear gas at violent protest groups and arrested more than 1,000 people.

Apart from plainclothes police officers, video cameras and air force helicopters will also monitor crowds. Officers armed with intelligence from foreign police forces have started looking out for known troublemakers at immigration checkpoints.

The ongoing security sweep caps more than five years of planning and rehearsals, which started in 2001 after Singapore was selected as host city for this year's IMF/World Bank session.

"We examined security street by street, floor by floor of all the venues affected," Kam said.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur

China jails Singapore journo for spying

August 31, 2006 - 4:30PM

A Chinese court jailed a reporter for a Singapore newspaper for five years on a charge of spying in the latest in a series of high-profile cases illustrating China's curbs on the media and dissent.

Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based China correspondent for the Straits Times who has been detained in China since April 2005, was also deprived of his political rights for a year and had personal property worth 300,000 yuan ($A49,500) confiscated, Xinhua news agency said.

Ching, 56, was charged with spying for Taiwan.

He was detained in the southern province of Guangdong where, his wife has said, he had travelled to collect documents related to disgraced former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang.

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd, the parent of the Straits Times, urged China to consider freeing Ching on medical parole.

"As he is known to be suffering from high blood pressure and is not in the best of health, we appeal to the Chinese authorities to show him leniency and compassion," it said in a statement.

Xinhua said Ching received $HK300,000 from a Taiwan foundation, which it did not identify but described as a front for the island's intelligence apparatus.

Ching dealt with two people from the foundation surnamed Xue and Dai with full knowledge the pair were spies, Xinhua said, adding that using an alias he sent via fax and email information involving state secrets and intelligence which he had gathered from others in Beijing.

China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 32 in custody and another 50 Internet campaigners also in prison, rights group Reporters Without Borders says.

On Friday, a Beijing court dismissed charges that a Chinese researcher for the New York Times had illegally leaked state secrets, but sentenced him to three years for fraud.

Zhao Yan, 44, had been accused of telling the US newspaper details of rivalry between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, over military appointments in 2004.

A day before Zhao's sentencing, China jailed blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng for four years and three months for damaging property and disrupting traffic in what critics considered an unusually harsh sentence.

Sharon Hom, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China, said she had serious concerns about the Ching case.

"Coming close on the heels of the sentences announced for Zhao Yan and Chen Guangcheng, this sentence also sends a chilling message to journalists, lawyers and other rights defenders," she said via email.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was "very dissatisfied" with the verdict and the lack of transparency and that Ching was likely to appeal.

© 2006 Reuters, Click for Restrictions

30 Aug 2006

A Case for Civil Disobedience

The police has rejected a permit for Singapore opposition politician, Dr Chee Soon Juan's application to stage a protest march during next month's IMF-World Bank meetings. The government has also banned outdoor protests; and demand that regional NGOS be accredited and confine their demonstrations to indoor areas.

In crafting such restrictions, it is apparent that the Singapore government is hoping to manage protests or marches. The risk and probability of riots and violence outbreak during the IMF World Bank meeting is a serious concern for the Singapore government and a police force which has had no previous experience in handling large scale demonstrations. As such, one can predict with certainty the amount of nervousness that the PM Lee government is having. After all, the whole world is watching them.

The question of whether regional and international NGOs will obey Singapore's government heavily curtailed limitations, will, of course, depends on how they organise themselves and whether they are determined to flout the rules and protest on the streets. My guess is as good as yours.

Nevertheless, the focus of my essay is not on the international NGOs. Instead, I am putting my attention on the local civil society front. It seems, with the exception of Dr Chee, Singapore NGOs seem to have remained rather quiet on this event.

Is Singapore completely immune from the effects of globalisation, environmental issues or IMF-World Bank policies? If the answer is no, we certainly have an axe to grind when the institutions hold their meetings here.

Even if we are to suspend our beliefs for one moment and believe that Singapore is not affected by globalisation, the fact that the actions of these organisations have a great impact and effect on the greater environment; including affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in other parts of the world should be enough to make us feel indignant. As such, how can we allow these global issues that affects millions, be discussed without any expression of protests, even by Singaporeans? Whatever happened to compassion for fellow human beings?

You may think my argument is a tad dramatic. But there are certainly global issues that we (that means you and me, and Singaporeans in general) should be concerned about. I am not an expert on these complicated problems but that does not mean I should do nothing or worst, keep quiet.

The IMF-World Bank meeting is a perfect opportunity for us to network and show solidarity with other external NGOs on international issues. It is the time for us to show that we do care about the world. This is the time for us to show that we want the world's largest financial institutions to hear the voices of the disprivileged.

As such, I urge Singaporeans, to come out and protest, to show concern for people from other parts of the world, particularly those in the South. Whether one chooses to protest against the multilateral debts; the imposition and promotion of neoliberal policies and projects; US Imperialism or even the Israeli war in Lebanon and Palestine, you have every reason and right to do so.

The need for civil disobedience could not have been greater.

29 Aug 2006

Lawyer in Singapore Falungong case claims "unfair treatment"

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday August 28, 2006

Singapore- The trial of two members of the Falungong religious group was scheduled to resume Tuesday after a Singapore judge refused to halt the proceedings based on a lawyer's allegations of "unfair treatment." M Ravi, representing computer engineer Erh Boon Tiong, 49, and housewife Ng Chye Huay 42, complained Monday that the prosecution had not handed over a video compact disc (VCD) showing the two displaying insulting words on a banner on July 20 opposite the Chinese Embassy.

The banner read, "7:20 Stop prosecution of Falungong in China." July 20 marked the anniversary of China's crackdown on the Falungong movement.

Chinese characters were translated to read, "On hunger strike to protest the Chinese Communist Party's prosecution of Falungong practitioners."

Erh and Ng were charged with using words that were likely to cause harassment to Chinese embassy staff, visitors and passers-by.

The Falungong is banned in China but legal in Singapore.

Ravi told District Judge Siva Shanmugam that his clients' rights had been violated as two prosecution witnesses were present when he revealed that he would cite political motivation as a defence.

"Singapore is being influenced by the Chinese government in pressing the charges, and now the witnesses will tailor their testimony to prevent me from making this argument," The Straits Times quoted him as saying.

The judge said that nothing the two witnesses had heard would prejudice the case. He refused to halt the proceedings so that Ravi could file a criminal motion in the High Court.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur

28 Aug 2006

The Class Compromise in Singapore

Having come across an article written in the Financial Times by John Burton it struck a cord with a research proposal I am currently mulling over regarding the nature of Singapore's regime. It also seemed to confirm the use of a particular indicator and its reflection on income inequality. The debate outlined below goes even further than the FT article. The question is whether or not the widening gap between the rich and poor coupled with other indicators shows a slide towards authoritarianism? Below is merely a selected extract of the proposal which is still an ongoing endeavour.

Kollmeyer (2003) asserts that, “if we equate democracy with a governing system that equitably mediates class conflict […]” we can measure changes in outcomes theoretically linked to effective democratic governance by using four macro-level social and political indicators; income inequality, voter participation rates, incarceration rates and union membership.

The number of households with monthly incomes in Singapore below S$3,000 increased to 42% in 1999 up from 40% in 1998. The difference in income inequality between the top quintile and the bottom quintile increased to 20 in 2000, resulting in an income inequality at a higher rate than that of the United States of America in 2000.

According to Kollmeyer (2003), Muller (1998) finds a positive correlation between rising levels of income inequality and the probability of an authoritarian takeover of a previously democratic regime.

The next indicator is 'voter participation rates' however in Singapore, voting is compulsory, thereby complicating the use of this indicator when trying to gauge the level of political participation.

The incarceration rate for Singapore in 2005 according to the International Centre for Prison studies was 350 per 100,000 based on a population of 4.3 million with a total number of 15,038. This figure is well below the rate of the USA which stands at 800 per 100,000 but more than double the rate in European countries. Kollmeyer seems to argue, using the indicators he provided, that the USA is undermining the class compromise and shifting towards authoritarianism.

The incarceration rate for Singapore, according to the source, does not include persons in Drug Rehabilitation Centres.

With reference to union density, Singapore ratified Convention No.98 but not convention No.87 of the International Labour Standards Commission. Convention 87 refers to freedom of association and protection of the Right to Organisation Conventions. No. 98 refers to the Right to organise for the purpose of collective bargaining. The level of union density in 1999 (Campbell, 1999 cited Serrano, 2005) was 20.0%. The biggest union in Singapore is the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) which “is a family of 63 trade unions with more than 470,000 members in support of the labour movement.” The NTUC chief has always been a Peoples Action Party member and a member of cabinet. Rendering the union density indicator redundant.

The two indicators that appear to be incompatible with providing an accurate account of the system of governance are ‘voter participation’ and ‘union density’, both engaged in measuring political involvement of the population.

Are Singaporeans politically involved, at what levels, are civil groups facilitated?

Prison Brief for Singapore, International Centre for Prison, Kings College London, http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/rel/icps/worldbrief/continental_asia_records.php?code=110, Last visited 21.03.2006.

Kollmeyer C.J. (2003) ‘Globalisation, Class Compromise, and American Exceptionalism: Political Change in 16 Advanced Countries’, Critical Sociology, Vol. 29, (3), Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Muller, E. N. (1988) ‘Democracy, Economic Development and Income Inequality’, American Sociological Review 53 (1): pp. 50-68.

National Trade Union Congress, (Singapore) (2006), http://www.ntuc.org.sg/, Last viewed, 21/03.2006.

Serrano, M.R. (2005) Addressing Union Decline in The ASEAN in the Era of Globalisation: Some Strategies and Initiatives, University Extension Specialist II, U.P. School of Labor and Industrial Relations, Quezon City: Diliman.

Singapore’s social contract under strain

Financial Times
August 19, 2006
By John Burton in SINGAPORE

WHEN Today, a state-owned newspaper, recently published a satirical article by a popular internet blogger known as Mr Brown, the Singapore government was not amused.
The information ministry sent a sharp letter saying his views could undermine national stability. The editors quickly decided to suspend Mr Brown's regular column indefinitely.

The incident appeared to contradict promises by Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, to promote more political discussion in the tightly ruled city-state. “We are building a more open society and encouraging freer debate,” he claimed in a National Day speech last week.

The reason the offending column hit a raw nerve was that it complained about the rising cost of living when the income gap is widening.

The social contract under which Singaporeans gave up certain civil liberties in return for prosperity is under threat.

There are other signs of official nervousness. New conditions for the circulation of foreign publications were recently imposed. Singapore banned outdoor demonstrations by international non-governmental organisations during next month's IMF/World Bank annual meeting. And Chee Juan-soon, a leading opposition leader, is being tried for alleged defamation against top government leaders and speaking in public without a police permit.

The moves come after the long-ruling People's Action party suffered an 8-percentage-point drop in support during May's general election, which focused on widening income disparity.

Shortly after the election, the government revealed that the income gap was bigger than at any time since independence in 1965. The bottom 30 per cent of households have seen incomes fall since 2000.

Singapore's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, places the city state at 105th in the world, between Papua New Guinea and Argentina, based on data from the latest United Nations Development Programme report.

A two-speed, dual economy appears to be emerging in Singapore,” said Citigroup.

“Globalisation, for a small open economy, may be having a disproportionately large impact.”

The government has allowed some forms of freer _expression, particularly in terms of theatre performances because they attract a small audience.

The recent Singapore Theatre Festival included several plays that were critical of the political and social climate.

“The younger generation of journalists is trying to challenge the government and push the envelope on what it can report,” said a senior editor with Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes most of the local newspapers.

But the government is pushing back, warning journalists not to overstep what it calls “out-of-bounds markers”.

The information ministry said Mr Brown was “exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the government's standing with the electorate,” when instead he “should offer constructive criticism and alternatives”.

Singapore has tightened regulations this month on leading international publications, including the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER).

The rules, which already apply to the Wall Street Journal Asia, require the publications to post a security deposit of S$200,000 (US$127,000, €99,000, £68,000) and appoint a representative in Singapore who could be sued, and gives the government the power to restrict their circulation. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press freedom group, said the rules were meant to intimidate the international media from reporting on Singapore's domestic affairs and encourage them to practise self-censorship.

The information ministry said the press act “serves to reinforce the government's consistent position that it is a privilege, and not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore.”

“They do so as foreign observers of the local scene and should not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore.”

The move came shortly after FEER published an interview with Dr Chee, whom it called Singapore's “martyr”, and ahead of the IMF/World Bank meeting in Singapore next month, the biggest international conference it has ever held.

Dr Chee, who promotes the idea of civil disobedience, had suggested he might use the occasion to stage public protests.

Under an agreement with the IMF and World Bank, Singapore pledged to allow an approved list of NGOs to take part in the proceedings. But it recently said the NGOs would have to get police permits to gain access to the lobby of the conference centre, where they can “gather and engage” delegates.

26 Aug 2006

Our Denial

A short film by Antithesis I came upon on tomorrow.sg and was originally sent in by Recreativo Narcótico
in 2 mins, it slams the education system, racism, death penalty, mass media, consumerism, exploitation, political apathy etc etc...

George Lakoff on Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

A video I came upon while reading here...


The following is posted by special request. If you feel like reading the entire article click here.

Identifying the Ideological Construct used by the ruling party the first step towards defeating it?
While doing research for my final university course on culture, I came across a really interesting entry on Wikipedia that happened to describe Singapore very well:


- a pragmatic political philosophy,
with maxims like "when the epoch changed, the ways changed"
as its essential principle, than a jurisprudence.
(Source: wikipedia)

(Jurisprudence: Jurisprudence is the theory and philosophy of law. Students of jurisprudence aim to understand the fundamental nature of law, and to analyze its purpose, structure, and application. Jurisprudential scholars (sometimes confusingly referred to as "jurists") hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the law, the kind of power that it exercises, and its role in human societies. At a practical level, some jurists hope to improve society by studying what the law is, what it ought to be, and how it actually operates. They seek a deeper understanding behind law's seemingly unpredictable and uncertain nature. Source: Wikipedia)

Now, what really intrigued me was how each of the core principles described in the wiki entry, could easily be reflected in the political approach to governing Singapore:

Fa (法 fǎ): law or principle. The law code must be clearly written and made public. All people under the ruler were equal before the law. Laws should reward those who obey them and punish accordingly those who dare to break them. Thus it is guaranteed that actions taken are systemically predictable. In addition, the system of law ran the state, not the ruler. If the law is successfully enforced, even a weak ruler will be strong.

Continue reading....

25 Aug 2006

Think Global and Act Local

With the ongoing debate over whether or not the civil society groups should or should not be allowed to protest on the streets of Singapore it seems that the wishes and aims of these organisations have been kept out of the ensuing debate. With the police arguing that protests could be used to further the activities of 'terrorists', the civil society groups deciding to move their protest to Batam, and the WB/IMF asking the police to allow the protests it is probably time to ask what do these groups desire to such an extent to go to such great lengths?

Jubilee South
Call for Global Actions Against International Financial Institutions
For more than sixty years, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank together with their partner regional development banks and export credit agencies, have used international finance capital to exercise control and restructure the societies of the South to serve the interests of global private corporations and the economic and geo-political agenda of the few powerful nations that control these institutions. The resulting effects on people's lives, on communities, on the environment, and on the economic as well as political structures in the South have been profound and over the years have generated numerous resistance struggles against these institutions.

Despite well-documented evidence and countless testimonies to the destruction, displacement and dispossession their policies and operations have caused, these institutions persist in legitimizing their role. In recent years they have declared themselves to be champions of "poverty reduction" and "good governance."

This year, 2006, we pledge to intensify our struggles against these institutions and raise the level of international coordination and concerted action. In particular, we commit to organizing different forms of mobilization and direct action in many countries across the globe during the week of the IMF and WB Annual Meetings, September 14-20, 2006. This will include various activities and actions in the vicinity of their meetings in Singapore.

WE CALL on all people's organizations, social movements, labor movements, women's movements, farmers groups, first peoples, religious and cultural groups, community organizations, NGOs, political forces, and all concerned citizens around the world to join us in mounting vigorous actions that will focus the world's attention on the destruction and human rights violations caused by the IMF and World Bank, the regional development banks, export credit agencies, and the neoliberal global system they enforce.

Our actions will identify issues and articulate demands that reflect the particular impacts of these institutions on each of our countries but will also be united on the following global demands:
[the list below truncated. to read in full click here.]

1. Immediate and 100% cancellation of multilateral debts as part of the total cancellation of debts claimed from the South, without externally imposed conditionalities.

2. Open, transparent and participatory External Audit of the lending operations and related policies of the International Financial Institutions, beginning with the World Bank and IMF

3. Stop the imposition of conditions and the promotion of neoliberal policies and projects.

a. In this 50th anniversary year of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the IFIs end the promotion of privatization of public services and the use of public resources to support private profits.
b. Stop IFI funding and involvement in environmentally destructive projects beginning with big dams, oil, gas and mining and implement the major recommendations of the Extractive Industries Review.
c. Immediately stop imposing conditions that exacerbate health crises like the AIDS pandemic and make restitution for past practices such as requiring user fees for public education and health care services.

As we take to the streets and plazas on September 14 to 20, in Singapore and around the world, we stand united in our call for an end to the destruction visited upon the South by the IMF, the World Bank, the other multilateral banks, and the countries that control them.

We call upon activists to tell us about their planned activities so that we may publicize them, and about the outcomes of their actions.

Maybe it is time we all started to 'Think Global and Act Local'.

How NOT to succeed in the conventions business

Yawning Bread. August 2006

We shouldn't forget that one of the winning reasons why we awarded the first casino licence to Las Vegas Sands was because they had the best proposal for bringing large conventions to Singapore. Their architectural plans included huge convention halls and their business plans highlighted their ability to attract super-sized meetings.

Once again, Singapore is demonstrating our world-class ability to be totally schizophrenic. We want people's money, but we don't want to give people the freedom to do what they wish to do. We want Sands to go all out to attract conventioneers at the same time that we give ourselves all the bad press about how North Korean we are.

Having the World Bank issuing statements objecting to the way we run the show after they had agreed to locate their conference in Singapore is a fine way to secure our share of the conventions business. Here we're talking about upgrading our customer service standards so that the thousands of World Bank/IMF delegates will see a smiling side of Singapore, and there our chief customer -- the World Bank -- is feeling dissed. Brilliant!

to read the article in full.

Related Link:
World Bank: S'pore Should Waive Ban on Outdoor Protests

Singapore: Make love, not work

[Cartoon from My Sketchbook]

This article is rather late but it does have a special resonance with myself as I intend to return to Singapore in the near future. Having lived in Singapore for a number of years I actually love the place and it is close to my partner's relatives. There are however two important concerns that we have and that is our children's education and the fact that our son or son's will have to do national service if we became full citizens.

I am no pacificist but no child of mine will ever hold a gun. I grew up in a city with guns on every street corner, soldiers and paramilitaries patrolled the streets late at night and parents and relatives mourned during the day. While my extended family was relatively untouched by violence it was happening all around us and we did live in fear. When I see a gun today whether it be on television or at Heathrow airport I remember the amazing, brutal and indiscriminate death that guns inflict on the innocent as well as the guilty. The greatest weapon of mass destruction is the gun whether it be fully automatic or not. No child of mine will ever be placed in the position of holding a weapon or standing at the end of the barrel if I can help it.

The second is the education system in Singapore where every parent dreams of creating yet another managing director or CEO. If my children are unable to attend an international school then we will uproot and move back to the UK.

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned Singaporeans that they will either have to produce more babies or welcome more migrants if the country is going to sustain economic growth and living standards.

Lee, during his recent National Day speech, estimated that at current birth rates Singapore will need an additional 14,000 babies each year to ensure that the population is large enough to sustain the economy.

A slew of policies introduced two years ago to boost birth rates, such as longer maternity leave and infant-care subsidies, have so far had no visible effects, with the affluent city-state's fertility rate last year recording an all-time low of 1.24 per female.

The alternative, according to Lee, is for Singapore to open its doors to permanent immigrants. Last year's General Household Survey shows that new permanent residents have risen by 8.7% to 30,000 per year between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, the number of citizen births rose by a mere 0.9%, or an average of 28,000 births per year.

"If we want our economy to grow, if we want to be strong internationally, then we need a growing population," argued Lee.

A growing number of Asian professionals, especially from mainland China, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong, have recently uprooted themselves from their home countries to take up employment in Singapore. Yet while many immigrants have taken up permanent-residency status, few go on to become Singaporean citizens.

Kwan Chee Wei, a regional human-resource consultant for a multinational company, argues that many professionals go to Singapore hoping to advance their careers or for the upscale lifestyle, but are not interested in changing their citizenship.

That said, an increasing number of Indian and Chinese nationals have recently taken up Singaporean citizenship, creating a measure of resentment among the local ethnic Chinese and Indian populations, who see the new immigrants as competition for jobs.

Lee has tried to defuse those tensions, contending that many Asian migrants have actually created jobs for other Singaporeans through their entrepreneurship. "If you get the right foreigner here, he creates thousands of jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

He also noted that developed countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, frequently headhunt and hire Singaporean talent, often offering scholarships and high-paying jobs to lure them away from Singapore.

"Countries know, people know Singapore. They no longer think Singapore is somewhere in China. But they don't know Singapore is out there looking for talent," said Lee. "We have to promote our immigration program overseas."

Since Lee's speech, letters to the editorial pages of newspapers in Singapore have been flooded with comments - or more precisely xenophobic complaints - about the apparent new policy toward immigrants. One letter writer, Lim Boon Hee, said, "Be open to foreign talent, but do not forsake our own. One more clever foreign talent means one place less for our local-born sons in institutions of higher learning."

Another writer, Jimmy Ho Kwok, suspects that employers will welcome foreign degree-holders from such countries as India and China so they can pay them less than the threshold salaries offered to local graduates and diploma-holders.

Unionist G Muthukumar points to information-technology professionals from India and sales assistants from the Philippines and Myanmar as examples of employers paying foreigners less than they would pay local hires. On the other hand, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen referred to how foreign technicians helped to set up Singapore's aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul industry quickly - while it took Singapore six years just to set up the training courses to develop local technicians for the industry.

The debate has since turned focus to the politically volatile issue of the rising cost of living and its impact on raising a family. "Welcoming migrants to our shores is not the solution to our declining birth rates," argued Zeena Amir, a single sales executive in her late 20s. "What would be more beneficial to Singaporeans and also make more sense in the long term is to work on controlling the increasing cost of living."

Singapore has arguably become a victim of its own success. Over the past two decades, the island nation has produced a large number of highly educated young women, many of whom now have high-powered jobs and find child-rearing not only an economic burden but a liability to their career development.

"Children are no longer an asset but a liability," argued young lawyer Shirley Tan. "Child care and education are so expensive, and I can't afford to stay at home to look after them."

As this ambitious nation of 4 million people tries to build further on its economic successes, the debate on whether Singaporeans should have more babies or more migrants seems set to intensify.

"Some view foreigners as competition to their livelihoods," noted ruling-party parliamentarian Alvin Chan. "We will have to explain to them that this is not really the case."

(Inter Press Service)

Singapore Immigration

In his 2006 National Day Rally speech, PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke long on immigration: because the low birth rate of Singapore citizens and the shortage of local talent, Singapore has to accept the importation of manpower.

While the two reasons are cogent enough, it is necessary to match them with the situation on the ground. The largest number of imported workers, mostly construction workers, domestric maids, and other service industry workers (e.g., waiters) are on the work permit scheme, which is not intended to lead to long term residence. In fact, marriages between such work permit holders and citizens are discouraged and in any case do not guarantee long term residence.

In other words, immigration, permanent residence and citizenship is not for any kind of manpower, but for educated or highly skilled manpower, of which imports occur in much smaller numbers than construction workers/maids. For example, the management personnel of multinational corporations and anaylists/traders in the financial industry have a high representation of foreigners on employment passes. In recently years, the R&D system has also recruited a large number of expatriates.

These people generally rate Singapore highly as a job assignment location: married expatriates with children find the low crime, cosmopolitan environment and international education system quite satisfactory for family life, while single American and European male expatriates suffer no shortage of female company with large numbers of local girls keen to have Caucasian boyfriends. With good expatriate salaries and the low tax regime, they can save a considerable sum of money during a few years to take home. However, few such people would consider going native in view of the considerable cultural differences.

People of Asian origins who have degrees from universities in the West, maybe with a bit of working experience after graduation, have a greater chance of choosing to settle in Singapore. There are also a large number of students from the region who were given scholarships to come here for undergraduate studies, with the requirement to work in Singapore for six years after graduation.

While the cultural differences are smaller with these people, they come with particular mixes of eastern and western/old and new cultural experiences, which need to mesh with Singapore's own mix of east and west. For example, they might have been exposed to a particular version of politics, social hierarchy and mass media, and might find that while Singapore uses many of the same words, the meanings that the words carry may be different; this awareness might take some years to develop, and in the mean time, they find it difficult to form a coherent picture of the situation around them.

Taking my own case: on the one hand I am one of the long-staying foreign recruits, having been here (and with the same employer) since 1983; on the other hand, both my children went to college in USA and are unlikely to return here to work. Any benefit I might have provided, whether in terms of work or in terms of population numbers, is transient. I also know that a significant portion of the students here on scholarships intend to apply for MBA admission in USA some time after graduation, so that their 6-year employment obligation provides a double benefit: in addition to not having to pay back the financial assistance they received, the work experience is used as MBA admission qualification. They too would only provide a transient benefit.

24 Aug 2006

Debate and Forum to prevent execution of Amara Tochi

Sunday, 27 August
Asia Hotel, Scotts Rd
2.30 to 5.30 pm
organised by the

Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Committee


*Lee Weng Choy
*Alex Au
*M Ravi
*Letchumi Murugesu
(mother of executed Shanmugam s/o Murugesu)

Video plea from
Amara Tochi's brother

World messages:

*Amnesty International
*World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
*Nigerian Civil Liberties Organisation
*Australian Council Against the Death Penalty
*UN Desk for Extra Judicial Killing

V for Vendetta banned in Singapore?

Can someone out there confirm this?

Like many of you out there who made V for Vendetta the number one box office hit when it opened in Singapore, I was all hyped about getting the DVD upon release. So I headed down to my favourite DVD store, and was subsequently told that it was banned in Singapore for language that was anti-Christian.Tribolum

Anti-IMF protestors to shun Singapore for Indonesia

Singapore (ANTARA News) - Over 2,000 activists who plan protests at the IMF and World Bank conference in Singapore next month said they will hold their rallies on a nearby Indonesian island because of Singapore's ban on demonstrations.

Trade unionists, farmers and activists from Jubilee South, a network of non-governmental organisations, plan to demonstrate on Batam, less than an hour by boat from Singapore, participating in a worldwide protest linking 350 activist groups in 74 countries.

"Since Singapore doesn't respect the rights of people to express their views, we are moving the demonstrations to Batam, where there is more democratic space," Lidya Nacpil, international coordinator of Jubilee South, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The group is already in touch with Indonesia about logistics, she said.

Anti-globalisation activists usually gather at similar international summits, but Singapore will make no exceptions to its ban on demonstrations and has said it will arrest lawbreakers and cane vandals.

Public protests are rare in Singapore. Any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit and a person convicted of unlawful assembly can be fined up to S$1,000 ($650).

Caning is commonly used as punishment for offences ranging from vandalism to drugs. Offenders are strapped to an A-shaped wooden frame and lashed across the bare buttocks by a professional caner with a rattan rod.

In 1994, Singapore made international headlines when it caned American teenager Michael Fay for spray-painting cars.

Singapore, which expects over 16,000 delegates and officials to descend on the city-state for the Sept. 11-20 World Bank/IMF meeting, has said outdoor protests are banned because they could be exploited by terrorist groups to stage attacks.

Indoor protests allowed

The city-state has only conceded that it would allow indoor protests within a designated area in the lobby of the conference venue. The lobby area is smaller than a football field.

According to guidelines issued by the police, activist groups must not move out of the designated areas, and are not allowed to use sound amplification systems or burn items or behave in a manner that would "provoke a breach of peace".

Protesters must also be properly attired at all times.

The World Bank has said outdoor protests should be allowed during the conference, but Singapore police said they would not waive the current rules.

"The Bank's preference for these meetings and all others has been to seek space for civil society to protest peacefully outside. That remains our preferred position," Peter Stephens, spokesman for World Bank Singapore, said in a statement.

Some groups said they plan to organise indoor seminars.

"We still need to maximise our space and make ourselves heard, so we will be organising seminars at hotels around the conference centre to discuss issues such as agrarian reforms," said Indra Lubis, a project assistant at La Via Campesina (The Peasant Way), an international group which represents over 80 million farmers worldwide.

"But frankly, it is not a very effective way to voice our concerns. How are the delegates going to hear us when we are put in separate rooms?" (*)

23 Aug 2006

International lawyers write to LKY over Falungong persecution

From Singapore Democratic Party site.
August 21, 2006

Lee Kuan Yew
Minister Mentor
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Istana Annexe
Singapore 238823

Dear Mr. Lee

We are writing this letter with deep concern and serious indignation for the attitude shown by the government of Singapore towards the peaceful citizens in that country who are exercising their rights of freedom of expression in order to expose the truth about the brutal persecution that he Chinese Communist Party is waging against millions of practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

It has been confirmed that the government of Singapore has initiated legal proceedings against various individuals for the simple reason that they were distributing pamphlets in a peaceful manner in public places to expose the genocide committed against Falun Gong in China. This decision, which in any democratic state is clearly illegal, has caused great outrage throughout the entire international community, which is especially sensible to the atrocities that are being committed by the Chinese government and which also cannot understand or accept that honorable citizens are being denounced, fined and even deprived of their freedoms by a government such that of Singapore which claims to be democratic and respectful of all fundamental liberties.

For all of the above, international human rights lawyers and the representatives of international associations that investigate the Falun Gong genocide wish to firmly state the following points:

1. We are very surprised and indignant to hear that in Singapore, where a Constitution exists that guarantees the rights and freedom of expression and belief, is adopting decisions that impede the free exercise of those rights and liberties, and which also creates doubts about the existence of a true democratic system in Singapore.

2. Acting this way, the government of Singapore could in essence be collaborating and justifying the strategy designed by the Chinese Communist Party in its efforts to exterminate the peaceful Falun Gong practice, including torture and mass murder.

3. International lawyers who are coordinating these legal cases against Chinese communist leaders in this genocide, will not hesitate to initiate legal actions at the international level against all those individuals or authorities who in any way are direct and indirectly collaborating or are complicit in this genocide by repressive acts such as those that have taken place in Singapore.

4. At the same time, different independent international organizations and associations which defend Human Rights will not remain passive in front of illegitimate acts that violate the very Constitution of Singapore, and the international norms of rights and liberties established by the United Nations, which could be denounced before the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.

5. We ask the government of Singapore to show true evidence that it is a legitimate democracy and an independent country that is not subject to the requirements of the Chinese government. Therefore we urge the government of Singapore to dismiss the lawsuits filed against those individuals who have been unjustly accused, withdraw all charges and declare complete innocence to those involved.

We will be vigilant and closely follow the decision that your government takes. We trust that this letter helps to rectify these attitudes which without doubt are neither compatible with democracy nor the defense of human rights.

Guo Guoting, Attorney, China
Terry Stenerson, Attorney, USA
Patrick M. O'Brien, Attorney, USA
Joshua Lanning, Attoney, USA
Stravos Tsakyrakis, Attorney, Greece
Keppy Wong Khai Pun, Attorney, Malaysia
Nik Mohamed Ikhwan, Attorney, Malaysia
Akira Yoshida, Lawyer, Japan
Chin-Nan Gu, Judge, Taiwan
Karen Chen, Attorney, Taiwan
Fran Wang, Attorney, Taiwan
Henry K.M. Chuang, Attorney, Taiwan
Tony Sihdu, Attorney, India

22 Aug 2006

Global protests set at IMF-WB annual meet

By Veronica Uy

Last updated 06:14pm (Mla time) 08/22/2006

A TOTAL of 350 organizations from 74 countries will be mounting global protests against the International Monetary Fund-World Bank during the latter's annual meetings in Singapore next month, the Jubilee South announced Tuesday.

At a press conference, Jubilee South convenor Lidy Nacpil said the twin initiatives -- the Global Actions against International Financial Institutions (IFIs) from September 14 to 20 throughout the world and the International People's Forum against IMF-WB from September 15 to 17 in Batam, Indonesia -- are demanding:

• immediate and 100 percent cancellation of multilateral debts claimed from the South without externally imposed conditions;

• open, transparent, and participatory external audit of all IFIs;

• a stop to privatization of basic services like power and water;

• a stop to funding environmentally destructive projects like dams, gas, and mining; and

• a stop to conditions that exacerbate the health crises such as requiring user fees for public education and health care services.

Nacpil admitted the difficulties in organizing protest actions in Singapore because of the city-state's strict internal security policy.

“More than the deportation is the fine,” she said, noting that in Singapore, three persons wearing the same colored shirts are considered staging a mass action.

Milo Tanchuling, convenor to the forum and secretary general of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, said local protest actions were being planned starting September 11.

“This is not because of 9/11, but because of the birthday of former dictator [Ferdinand] Marcos, whose policy of borrowing started all this,” Tanchuling said, adding that the Philippines has a standing national government debt of 3.8 trillion pesos and a public debt of 5.9 trillion pesos.

Tanchuling said 32 percent or about 300 billion pesos of the annual budget automatically goes to debt payment.

9/11 refers to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. September 11 is also the birthday of the late Marcos, the Philippine president for at least 20 years before his ouster in 1986 by a bloodless people power revolt.

Sending bloggers to school

Here is my contribution to the syllabus and I would like to put myself up for the position of lecturer as I have several years experience in the area and numerous years lecturing at an undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Almost anonymous blogging.

Stay anonymous everyone as it appears to me that the government have now ropped in the willing academics in the quest to control you. On this occassion 'control via re-education'.

Some basic training could help keep them out of trouble
Tuesday • August 22, 2006

Ang Peng Hwa

IT'S official: The Government is not against blogs or bloggers and in fact may even do some podcasting of its own to get its message across. So declared Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech.

For a while now, the local blogging community has been abuzz as to whether our strict rules governing the local media would be applied to the Internet and to blogs in particular.

This concern was compounded by a recent call by a columnist to regulate blogs like newspapers. Mr Lee's statement that the Government will treat new media with a lighter regulatory hand should therefore reassure bloggers.

It is also a logical and progressive move because regulating blogs like newspapers would, literally, be like using regulations from a different century on the newest technology of our age. Besides, blogs are like websites and should be subject to the rules of websites, as the National Internet Advisory Committee has said in its annual report.

In sum, rules that apply to blogs and bloggers are sufficient for the day. Instead, blogging should be encouraged but the bloggers properly educated in the niceties of writing.

There is a lot to be said for blogging. It is done by amateurs, a word that has the same root word as "love".

Often, blogs are diaries. Few will be read beyond a small circle of netizens who can be counted on two hands. Most will not make big money or last even a year. But like mobile phones, they are something every schoolgirl and boy today aspires to have.

And in Asia — and Singapore — where speech is silver and silence golden, such aspirations of expression should be encouraged. Also, blogging contributes to a culture of writing, and writing requires a thinking and reflective mindset.

Where blogging falls down is in its very origin from amateurs. As I have said elsewhere, because bloggers are non-professionals, they are likely to stumble into the pitfalls of writing. That is, bloggers are likely to get into trouble because of the lack of training.

They are unaware of controls on freedom of expression that exist even in the United States. They seem to think the US First Amendment has been coded into the Internet.

In reality, there are rules regarding what can appear on a website and many, though not all, of these rules come from the offline world. The laws of defamation, copyright, racist expression and obscenity continue to apply, although it is true that monitoring and enforcement may be difficult.

Having seen students doing journalism, I myself have been surprised at the difference that media training makes. I have seen how even students who have been considered good writers and editors have fallen into legal pitfalls when they have not had the proper training.

The importance of training was brought home to me in a recent research project done by a colleague in the Philippines. The Philippines has one of the most free press systems in the world; but by some reckoning, it is the second most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist, second only to Iraq.

In her research, she found that 90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever. In many of the cases, they were radio journalists who so defamed, harangued and harassed their news subjects that these people felt that they had no recourse other than violence.

Had the journalists been trained, they would probably have known to what legal limits they could go. In other words, without intending to trivialise or condone the violence, 90 per cent of the murders of journalists could have been averted with proper training.

In Singapore, the bloggers who have had trouble because of racist remarks have apparently not had any training in Singapore media laws.

The solution is some professional training for the bloggers to help them avoid trouble. At a minimum, defamatory, copyright, racist, obscene and other objectionable material, as well as OB (out of bounds) markers, are matters that need to be covered.

Training will not guarantee a trouble-free blogging existence. But from my observation and that of my Filipino researcher colleague, it should help most bloggers stay out of most difficulties most of the time.

The author is Dean of the School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University. He will be leading a half-day workshop on blogging and the law on Aug 26, to help bloggers understand the legal and political terrain. For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg/sci/sirc or email blogginglaw@ntu.edu.sg

20 Aug 2006

Singapore's Man with a Plan

I am sure Philip Yeo much prefers the title given to him by Economist,


Singapore's man with a plan, compared with the one given to him by Today

The bio-mad man http://www.todayonline.com/articles/137300.asp

I myself prefer to call him "the crash programmes man", crash programmes because they are a few years late.

In the early 80s Singapore went into a crash programme on IT, with the new National Computer Board (now part of Infocomm Development Authority) spearheading a Civil Service Computerization Programme, and rapid expansion of the NUS Computer Science Department from less than 100 grduates in 1983 to 500 10 year later. Curiously, the University of Singapore never had a CS Department: a small one was set up in 1975 in Nanyang University through the initiative of some staff from Mathematics and Physics; it then become part of NUS when the two universities merged. At the time it only had 10 academics and had to scramble madly to cope with growth.

Whereas in the 70s people from Hong Kong and Taiwan were going to USA to study computer science in substantial numbers, and some from Malaysia too, virtually no Singaporeans were doing this. Why? the economic planners thought computers were for rocket science, nuclear research, etc, which Singapore was not interested in. It was nearly 1980 when message began to come through that computers are important for the industry, making it necessary to start a crash programme.

In the 80s molecular biology was making big progress, but in NUS the Biology Department was busy growing better varieties of orchids and fish, things seen to be relevant to Singapore's economy. When Life Sciences got started in a big way, it too was an "a few years late" kind of crash programme. Despite the best intentions, economic planners are some distance away from actual scientific developments, and ideas take time to filter up to them.

Crash programmes allow efforts and resources to be focused. However, there are certain things that are better done through organic growth, and such things are disturbed when competing crash programmes pumped full of money, often more than people know what to do with, are going full blown. It is not the way I myself would prefer to get things done.

To what extent do the problems in Neuroscience Institute and Johns Hopkins Institute relate to the speed at which things get implemented? About these I cannot say, but about IT, I can say that the crash programme was a successful one. In the level of penetration of technology in daily life and economic sphere, there is no doubt Singapore is ahead of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and comparable to the most advanced countries, though with little technology creation as compared to utilization.

18 Aug 2006

Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?

Who will rid me of this troublesome priest? England's King Henry II said that in the presence of four knights, who took it literally as a royal command and the politically "meddlesome" Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was subsequently murdered in 1170.

Modern day Singapore. Since the 1990s, the PAP regime posted signs everywhere that they want SDP's Chee Soon Juan silenced. Who will rid me of this troublesome priest? Maybe Justice Belinda Ang. Maybe the Straits Times and the other local media. Maybe the instruments of the regime like the ISD and the police. The PAP probably never told the media, the courts and the government what to do about Chee. But they probably made pig faces, grunting noises and winked. The supposedly politically-neutral media, courts and government then carried out the instructions of the PAP regime that were never given. They did what the PAP wanted them to do but cannot say.

But not High Court Justice Woo Bih Li who disqualified himself from the case on Chee Soon Juan and others for speaking in public without a permit. In the interest of justice, although it is never said openly, but deep down inside, Justice Woo probably chose not to get himself into what is seen as a politically-inspired court case.

The closing of the Martyn See Singapore Rebel film case is another example that the government might be tired of the charade. Similarly, only a few months ago, the James Gomez's GE blunder and the resultant police warning despite the blustering of the regime leaders showed that the government is tired of playing Master and Puppets.

Dissent is finally becoming public, although slowly, in the courts and the government. These institutions are gradually asserting their neutrality in the PAP vs opposition saga. Why the change in heart? As the government recently created restrictions for the foreign media, it clearly means that the foreign media's role in leading Singaporeans to political enlightenment by truthful reporting is pivotal and the PAP fear it. Foreign NGOs and media interest in free and fair politics in Singapore is paving the way for constructive political change at home.

There is no better way to give this political transformation a boost than the coming IMF World Bank September meeting. The world is watching very closely at Singapore then. The PAP fears such prying eyes because they know that the government, media and court would withdraw their support if these three institutions know their actions are scrutinised by the world. During the IMF World Bank meeting, the courts, media and the government might be at their most neutral and this could be the chance for Singaporeans to speak up and smile wide for the right reasons.

Who will rid me of this troublesome priest? And the knights looked at each other and looked away, pretending not to hear.

16 Aug 2006

social welfare

Singapore government's official policy is to have no comprehensive welfare provisions, based on the premise that welfare encourages dependence, reduces incentive to work hard, and saps a country's economic competitiveness. This makes the country very different from the "first world" where old age pension, medicare, child endowment ("milk money)", unemployment insurance, negative income tax, etc are familiar features. The argument is that whereas these countries have abundant natural resources making it reasonable for the government to guarantee a minimum standard of living to the people, Singapore is not in that situation. Where welfare assistance is provided, it is done on an individual case basis with people with demonstrable need seeking help from government or private welfare agencies.

I believe there is also a second consideration: the unwillingness to foster an attitude of entitlement among citizens, causing the government budget to be pre-committed to various social programmes leaving the decision makers limited room to invest in future economic development initiatives. In other words, the anti-welfare policy goes hand in hand with the wide control of the government over the national economy, rather than being paradoxial "why a rich government cannot give more".

I have no wish to start an ideological debate on this issue here, but would like to make a couple of points of a pragmatic nature.

First, we now live in a world where divorce rates are much higher than they used to be. A typical situation is that the husband gets involved with a younger woman, possibly starting a new family, leaving the wife to cope on her own with the earlier children. While in most cases the divorced wife and her children would have sufficient access to financial resources, such as the wife's own salary, division of family assets, and assistance from grandparents and other relatives, to provide for their own needs, a significant portion of such single mother families are badly off, and this number can be expected to keep increasing. Providing adequate financial resources in such situations not only alleviates current sufferings, but also generates future social benefits in giving the children a better chance to be educated and to develop normally.

Second, a social safety net makes it less likely that temporary economic setbacks, such as loss of job or major sickness, would lead to long term adversities putting people into desperate frames of mind. People would be less likely to go to loan sharks or engage in minor fund misappropriations, activities that have a tendency to snowball into more serious crimes in time. A small amount of assistance at appropriate moments can have very significant long term benefits by preventing small misfortunes from turning into major ones.

15 Aug 2006

China to try Singaporean journalist on Tuesday

4.20pm Monday August 14, 2006

BEIJING - A Singapore reporter accused by China of spying for Taiwan is likely to be tried on Tuesday, a Hong Kong-based rights group has said.

Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times, was detained on a visit to the mainland in April 2005 and later charged with espionage for Taiwan - the self-ruled island that rejects Beijing's claims of sovereignty.

Ching's family and the newspaper have rejected the charges and called for his release.

The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy cited an unnamed Beijing prosecutor as saying Ching would be tried on Tuesday.

Ching's case is one of several that have highlighted China's harsh controls on the media and the flow of information.

Zhao Yan, a New York Times researcher accused of providing state secrets to foreigners, remains in detention awaiting a verdict in his case.

And a Beijing academic, Lu Jianhua, is also likely to be tried this week in connection with Ching, the Information Centre said.

On Friday, a court in east China's Zhejiang province sentenced an environmental activist, Tan Kai, to a year and a half in prison for "illegally obtaining state secrets", Radio Free Asia reported.

Last year, Tan helped farmers in Zhejiang protest against factory pollution threatening their crops and health.


Dissent off the agenda in Singapore

Connie Levett
August 14, 2006

WHEN the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank meet in Singapore next month there will be no placard-waving protesters clogging the streets, despite earlier promises that there would be space for dissent.

Using the threat of terrorism and concern that protests would disrupt the everyday lives of its diligent citizens, the Government has refused to waive its strict controls on public protests. A gathering of more than four people outdoors without permission is illegal.

The decision, while not surprising, is the latest in a string of restrictive moves by the Government, which has also targeted foreign and local media.

Appeals to Singapore's Government to allow the protests have gone unanswered.

"Frankly, we knew it would be very difficult for civil society to have any form of protest in Singapore," said Jenina Joy Chavez, a senior associate with the think tank Focus on the Global South, based in Manila.

"The bank wanted to bring the meeting back to Asia but it's a tricky situation to find (a country) who would welcome it other than Singapore," she said.

Singapore, a small island republic with a population of 3 million, is South-East Asia's wealthiest nation. The meeting will attract 16,000 delegates from 184 countries to discuss global initiatives ranging from poverty reduction to international finance. Every three years, the meeting is held outside Washington.

"For many groups, it is more symbolic than having any notion of getting redress," Ms Chavez said. "The World Bank and the IMF are largely inaccessible to the people affected by their programs (and) these meetings give them a chance to air their grievances."

Even non-government organisations with accreditation to meet delegates "will only be permitted to express their views inside the convention centre, in a special area", according to the Government-controlled Straits Times. "Even then, they must stick to police rules, which include bans on wooden or metal poles to hold up placards."

The decision on World Bank meeting protests comes as the Government reinforces controls on foreign press.

The Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts issued a statement this month warning the Far Eastern Economic Review, International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, Newsweek and Time magazines to steer clear of domestic politics.

"(It is) a privilege, and not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore," the statement said. "They do so as foreign observers of the local scene and should not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore."

The statement came after the Review published an article titled Singapore's Martyr, on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan. Mr Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, was recently sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Since the Singapore's Martyr article appeared, the ministry has redefined the status of the monthly Far Eastern Economic Review as a "declared foreign newspaper". From September 11 it must appoint a representative in Singapore to accept service of legal documents in any future legal actions, and to submit a security deposit of $S200,000 ($A165,000). Its circulation will still be capped at 10,000 copies, the statement says.

The Government has lifted the "exempted" status of the four other publications and they will have to meet the same conditions.

For local dissenters, the situation is even more difficult. In a recent incident, a satirical blogger "Mr Brown" whose work appeared in the tabloid Today newspaper was suspended after the Government complained. His column titled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" focused on increases in transport and electricity costs.

14 Aug 2006

Protest Diaries in Sydney - Rally To Stop the Bombing - Israel Out of Lebanon and Palestine

The Saturday rally on 12 August started at Sydney Town Hall which proceeded with a march to Hyde Park.

By the time it was 12, the crowd had swelled to at least a few hundreds (close to at least a thousand) to peacefully protest against the Israeli occupation in Lebanon and Palestine.

After a few speeches were given, the march started with a jubilant mood. The protestors were chanting simple yet powerful anti-war slogans such as “George Bush: Terrorists”, “ Free Free Lebanon; Free Free Palestine”, or “Israel, USA, How many kids have you killed today?” which helped to bolster the atmosphere of the crowd; as well as drawing the public’s attention.

By the time the protestors had marched to Hyde Park and gathered around the protest vehicle van, everyone was uplifted. At one point in time, certain groups of protestors were getting too rowdy that the MC had to ask all the protestors to sit on the green grass to allow the speakers to speak. More speeches continued, including a moving poem from a kid on his perspective on the war; as well as a mother who spoke about the war crimes committed against children in the war.

13 Aug 2006

A Lesson on Basic Politics? – Listen to both sides of the story

Another reply on a TODAY article. Our Senior Minister, who makes a comment about Middle East politics, needs to get his facts right.

I read with disdain and alarm on the report, entitled, “A lesson on basic politics; It was wrong decision for Hezbollah to 'test' Israel's new Prime Minister: SM Goh”

It appears that the TODAY news report has painted a one-sided view of the current Israel - Lebanon conflict. Our SM has also chosen to comment on an issue which is seemingly pro-Israel and US; and does not reflect my views as a Singaporean.

As such, I felt it necessary to write in to clarify, with the hope that my letter will be published and to allow Singaporeans to form their own opinions.

While PM Goh felt that the capturing of the two Israeli soldiers is a good reason for Israel to start the war, the truth is far more complicated. The capturing of the Israeli soldiers was to negotiate a prisoner exchange - swapping them for Samir Kuntar and other Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

TODAY also reported that our PM “gave another take on the Israeli point of view, which is that Hezbollah wants to destroy all of Israel and its people.”

This is again not the entire truth. Hezbollah was formed to combat the Israeli occupation following the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which fundamentally opposes the existence of the Israeli state; BUT not to kill or annihilate Israel or its people.

In Hezbollah's website, there is a distinction between "Zionist ideology" and Judaism. The former is an attitude across "races, religions, and nationalities". Zionism is defined as "the concept of creating 'Israel' by the use of force and violence, by stealing the Arabs’ lands and killing Palestinians". "[O]pposing the Zionists ideology is not opposing setting a home for Jews".

What is of most significance important at this immediate point in time is a ceasefire, rather than openly supporting the Israel or Lebanon government as our SM has done; as innocent civilians from both countries are suffering from the wanton destruction of warfare.

In particular in Lebanon, its infrastructures such as the Beirut airport, residential buildings, ambulances, United Nations posts and personnel, ports, bridges, roads, factories, medical and relief trucks, mobile telephone and television stations, fuel containers and service stations has been destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

According to a BBC report, “Hezbollah 'will observe UN truce' “ dated 12 August 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4787179.stm, “more than 1,000 Lebanese and more than 120 Israelis have been killed in the conflict since Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July in a cross-border raid.”

A lesson on basic politics
It was wrong decision for Hezbollah to 'test' Israel's new Prime Minister: SM Goh
Friday • August 11, 2006

Call it an outsider's point of view or call it Politics 101, but Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong believes Hezbollah should not have captured two Israeli soldiers five weeks ago.

The move by the Islamist organisation preceded Israel's offensive in Lebanon, which has now killed more than 1,000 people.

While he described the conflict as a tragedy, Mr Goh called it a wrong decision to test Israel's leader Ehud Olmert, who was sworn in as Prime Minister two months before the abduction.

"When two soldiers are kidnapped, a new Prime Minister must not show weakness; that is basic politics," said Mr Goh, who was speaking two weeks ago to journalists from the Middle East.

He gave another take on the Israeli point of view, which is that Hezbollah wants to destroy all of Israel and its people.

Mr Goh revealed his own shock to hear that the militia group had 13,000 missiles not under the control of the Lebanese government.

"Therefore, Israel says if that is your aim, I must disarm you, and this is in fact its motive," he said, in a report Wednesday by Arab News.

On Iran's involvement in the current conflict, he described it as speculation but added: "I do have reports that some Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been killed among Hezbollah fighters. What are they doing there? Are they supplying missiles to Hezbollah?"

Asked if the Islamic Shia organisation was fighting a war on behalf of Iran, he said: "I think it is in part a war on behalf of Iran."

Still, he said he is hopeful the conflict will not engulf the region.

"The Americans don't want an expansion because Washington has enough problems in Iraq and America would be vital to Israeli success if the war was expanded. Israel, on its own, will not expand to involve Iran and Syria. That would be very risky," he said.

What is needed for a ceasefire to be called, he said, is to "get the friends of both involved in order to calm things down".

For a long-term solution, he called on Palestinians and Hezbollah to recognise Israel's right to exist.

"That's important because if others don't recognise Israel's existence, then what is there for Israel to do other than fight and destroy you?" he asked. "Israel also must recognise the rights of others."

Mr Goh said that Singapore is just an outsider to the current Middle East problem, as the conflict is too big for the city-state to play a role in resolving. The big powers have to settle it in the United Nations.

"We would be happy to express a view on the conflict based on principles and we have done so. We aim to be even-handed," he said.

"We don't take the side of Israel or the Palestinians; we look at the problem as outsiders and we express our view of a particular problem.

"It is a kind of principled role which we hope we can play in the United Nations. We must always argue from the basis of justice, equality, fairness."

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.